Looking to Tolkien to prepare for ‘The Desolation of Smaug’

With the film premier looming, I have spent a lot of time the last couple days working to get myself into the proper mindset to be able to enjoy ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ and not immediately turn to analysis or criticism. It proved very difficult to force my purist hat from my head last year; so this year I’m being proactive!

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good discussion about Peter Jackson’s films, but that’s largely the product of age and familiarity. I am working towards recapturing the wonder and amazement which I felt seeing the original LotR films for the first time; and after a suitable time, then letting loose.

In the previous post, I brought up the nature of adaptation and interpretation (see The Tolkienist’s post and my last review of AUJ). Reviewing these thoughts, I was struck by a parallel to be found in Tolkien’s writing; which frankly, I’m surprised I did not spot before.

I posted a couple weeks ago about Complacency and Sub-Creation. The Tolkien purist, like the Valar at the death of the Trees, hope to see a recreation of the written word on the screen. Instead, also like the Valar seeing the Sun, what we see is much larger and stranger than that.

When art is created, particularly when inspired by some source material, the artist is often struck by an unachievable vision, which may never be realized in the translation from mind to physical form. This same disconnect also exists between translating the written word of legend to the medium of film.

In this challenge, which we wish could be fulfilled, we see the new creative alchemy: the quest to transform one material into another; not just visually, but in substance, at its deepest level. Not only is this impossible, but the success of such an endeavor would also destroy the original substance by making it something else.

Instead, we are left with a new substance, which reflects the original substance, as a diamond reflects light. In this we see the nature of Sub-Creation. For in creating, we sub-create the Truths of the world. Like Aule’s dwarves or Yavanna’s Ents, the artist cannot create anew, only reflect and mimic. A shadow of that original substance is revealed.

Peter Jackson’s films are a sub-creation of Tolkien’s original sub-created work. They reflect the original, yet remain their own substance, completely separate and alien to the first.

Just as words create myths about the signified, so the films create myths about the books.

So in order to prepare for the coming onslaught, which may force that purist hat back on, try reading Tolkien’s poem Mythopoeia and the Tale of the Sun and the Moon in the Book of Lost Tales. I think I’m right in saying, wherever your stance on the Canon-Movie Maven scale, we do not want alchemy!


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